Recent Thai government regulations have granted ‘fast-track’ entry to Asian business people without quarantine extending to parties of up to 10 people. The arrival of these groups coincides with the opening up of a new Covid 19 test centre at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok which has a turnaround time of 90 minutes with those receiving a negative result confirmed as precluded from quarantine requirements.
The agony of foreigners facing a huge bill, endless paperwork and waiting periods to enter Thailand to be reunited with loved ones continues with the cost of the exercise reaching soaring proportions, now well in excess of $5,000. There are growing reports of increasing delays and frustration in processing entry applications and finding a seat on an available flight. The situation became even more confusing on Thursday when news emerged of fast-track entries for business people from Asian countries who can now fly into Bangkok with the only requirement being a Covid 19 test at the airport at a cost of under $100.
There was perturbation among tens of thousands of foreigners who have been left for many months outside Thailand and who are currently waiting patiently to process applications to enter the country after it was reported, this week, that a charter flight from Shanghai flew twenty-one Chinese staff linked to a Chinese company operating in Thailand into Bangkok under new government regulations announced in recent weeks.
The flight, operated by Spring Air, flew from Shanghai to Bangkok on Tuesday from Pudong International Airport in Shanghai into Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. Flight 9C8579 also included thirty-one Thai citizens repatriating back to Thailand from China.
Fast-track entry concession for business people initially announced as limited to 10 people per party
Under new entry regulations announced in recent weeks, there is a special allowance for business travellers from key Asian countries including China, Japan and South Korea staying in Thailand for not more than 14 days, to avoid the mandatory 14-day quarantine period applied to all other passengers from foreign countries including those with work permits. This has been termed fast-track entry.
However, when the regulations were announced, it was made clear that such parties should not exceed 10 people
It has not yet been confirmed what the status of the 21 Chinese visitors who flew in on Tuesday is.
Most of those pictured at the airport were also not wearing face masks when photographed for the media.
New Covid 19 testing at Suvarnabhumi Airport
In the last week, Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok has unveiled a new testing facility at the airport where an accurate Covid 19 test can be taken at a cost of ฿3,000 or less than $100.
The turnaround time for the test is one and a half hours.
Western travellers forced to deal with laborious entry process at a cost of up to ฿190,000 per person
This news comes as foreigners from western countries, many with homes and loved ones in Thailand, are being forced to pay up to $6,000 or nearly ฿190,000 to enter the country under a laborious system, with long delays extending into months, which includes compulsory 14 days quarantine on arrival in Thailand.
This cost, in some instances, now extends to purchasing business class flights, the purchase of $100,000 Covid 19 insurance cover, tests and medical certification as well as payment for the 14 days quarantine under the government’s alternative quarantine scheme.
Processing of entry for stranded foreigners in western countries at some embassies has been suspended
Notwithstanding this, even that mode of entry is now virtually postponed for three to four weeks for most foreigners seeking entry due to limited processing capacity which has seen some Thai embassies having suspended taking applications until the end of July due to the overload in demand.
Transport Minister says public health is the key goal
On Tuesday, Thailand’s Transport Minister, Saksayam Chidchob, emphasised that public health is the overriding concern of the Thai government at this time.
His statements came as airlines are understood to be pressing for some international flights and a reopening of the kingdom to tourists.
It came at the same time as Thailand shelved tourism bubble proposals again aimed at Chinese tourists organised by small agencies using chartered flights, planned for August.
Currently, the only foreigners being admitted into Thailand are fast-tracked business travellers from Asia, western foreigners with spouses, those with work permits or residency in the kingdom getting back to homes and jobs. A certificate of entry is considered, for each applicant, on a case by case basis by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bangkok. All such cases must show evidence that the need for reentry is an urgent one and quite a few applications have already been refused on this basis.
These groups, of course, are in addition to government guests, the diplomatic corps and essential transport personnel.
However, there are problems here as the only flights from western countries have been limited to repatriation flights for Thai nationals from around the world.
Cost of returning to Thailand from many countries excluding flights is now $3,500 or ฿109,000
All foreigners returning are being forced to take out a commercial 14-day quarantine package, confirm health insurance in addition to a range of medical tests, one of which must be within 72 hours of departure.
The cost of this package of requirements from countries such as the United States, United Kingdom and Switzerland is now estimated to be $3,500 or ฿109,000 before the cost of the plane ticket is added in.
The numbers seeking to return in this category is way above official estimates at the outset of the programme. So much so, that it appears that this is the reason why some Thai embassies have now suspended processing applications.
UK man told that only business class seats available if he wished to fly home in July to the kingdom
The problem is two-fold. A lack of processing capacity including quarantine rooms on entry to Thailand and a lack of repatriation flights.
For example, there are reportedly only two repatriation flights scheduled from the UK in July while the number of Thai nationals alone seeking to return home is still approximately 3,000 people.
One UK man from Scotland seeking to return home to his Thai wife, who has been lucky to be granted a certificate of entry by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bangkok, has been told that he can avail of one of the flights provided he pays for business class seating which will cost £2,500 bringing his total bill to return home to Thailand close to $6,000.
Many stranded foreigners now think it will be September or October before they can return even with the expense but continue in hope
Nevertheless, a huge number of foreigners persist, thinking with their hearts instead of their heads, although many already accept that it may be September or October before they can access a flight to Thailand.
These are patient, low profile people who find themselves unwittingly at the centre of a personal maelstrom brought on by this international emergency now very much driven by fear.
The number of foreigners seeking a return to Thailand may be so large that all cannot be accommodated unless there is a rapid expansion of flights, quarantine bedrooms and processing ability in Bangkok.
The Thai government, still processing the large number of its own nationals attempting to return home and who must be placed in state quarantine, is thus further limited in its capacity to respond.
Medical tourism prioritised by Thai authorities
At the outset of the relaxation of rules allowing entry for foreigners with links to the kingdom, at one point, the Covid 19 administration centre suggested that there were 2,000 foreigners with Thai spouses seeking entry while it quoted a figure of 30,000 for medical tourists who were interested in travelling to Thailand.
So far, according to figures released this week, only 1,169 people have registered to enter Thailand for medical reasons together with 1,521 carers or supporters.
3 months to process a limited number of registered medical tourists reveals Covid 19 centre
The Covid 19 administration centre estimated this week that it will take three months to process this number through the existing channels and bottlenecks.
The situation highlights that the current approach is simply unsustainable even as the Covid 19 pandemic is reported to have not yet reached its peak by the World Health Organisation.
Meanwhile, Dr Taweesilp Visanuyothin of the Covid 19 emergency centre underlined to the public the precautions and secure environment under which these medical tourists will be allowed entry.
This includes tests within 72 hours of a flight to Thailand, screening at the airports as well as a compulsory 14 day stay in a Thai hospital in lieu of quarantine.
‘I would like everyone to believe in the safety standards of this system, which will help reinvigorate the country’s economy,’ Dr Taweesilp said his week.